Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A Hanseatic holiday

I've made it my mission to visit all the principle cities of the Hanseatic League. I started with the most powerful one.

This week I took a little trip to Hamburg and Lübeck. I had planned to do a lot of these trips within Germany when I moved to Berlin, but in fact this is the first one I've done since I moved here on 2 July.

No coincidence then that Hamburg is also the easiest German city to get to from Berlin. The high-speed ICE train travels the 260km in just an hour and a half, making no stops along the way. It doesn't make any stops because there is essentially nowhere to stop between these two cities, the train zips across the wide open flat fields of Northern Germany. High-speed lines are always the easiest to implement in unpopulated areas.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Wandering the Wannsee

When it comes to parks and lakes, Berlin can't be beat.

One of the pleasures of living in West Berlin is that I am just a 15-minute train ride from the beautiful Wannsee, the beautiful lake in the West of the city. It boasts a beautiful sandy beach (the largest inland beach in Europe), stunning castles, breathtaking biking trails and even an island full of peacocks.

This is the Berlin I've dreamed about living in for so long.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

"You guys, we're about to get deutsched"

The German obsession with policing other people's behaviour can be a bit tiresome, but after six years in Brussels it's nice to live in a place with a sense of society.

Is there life beyond Earth? That's the question a group of people I was with this weekend were asking themselves as we explored some crop circles that have recently formed in some wheat fields outside Berlin.

I was accompanying the group for a radio story I'm working on for Deutsche Welle, tying it in to the recent announcement of a new Stephen Hawking project to search for extraterrestrial life (it will air in the next few days on Inside Europe). It was a group of 15 or so youngish people from Berlin curious about UFOs, and you should have seen the looks we were getting as we walked through this small town in Brandenburg.

Perhaps the most alarmed look came as we emerged from the wheat fields. We had stopped to have a picnic within the crop circles, and when we were sitting down we were not visible from the road. Suddenly we all stood up, collected our things and started walking out of the field. I could see an elderly couple had stopped with their bikes and were staring at us, with a mixture of confusion and disapproval. "You guys, we're about to get deutsched," I told the group.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

A royal palace reborn

The Humboldt Forum will emulate the old Berlin City Palace, but not copy it.

Since I've been here in Berlin I've ridden my bike across Museuminsel many times on my journeys between East and West. I've been meaning to check out the construction site for the Humboldt Forum, where they are building a replica of the old royal palace that was torn down by the East Germans.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Berlin's slightly awkward Holocaust memorial

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe can sometimes seem more like a playground than a place for somber reflection.

Today I made a visit to the holocaust memorial in the center of Berlin. I had been there once before, shortly after it opened in 2006. My impressions this time were the same as the last; this would be a powerful memorial, were it not for all the other people in it.


The memorial is a forest of 2,711 concrete slabs, arranged in a maze with varying elevation. The architect, Peter Eisenman, took his inspiration from the Jewish cemetery in Prague, where the gravestones are crammed in tightly at odd angles. I used to visit that cemetery often when I lived in Prague in 2002, it's very moving (photo below).

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Germany: behind Alabama on gay rights

Angela Merkel this week re-asserted that marriage in Germany will only be between a man and a woman. But the country's civil unions are increasingly looking like a half-measure, out of step with modern times.

Last month's US supreme court ruling was something I wouldn't have been able to imagine ten years ago as an American. In 2004, no state in the union had gay marriage. In fact, a majority of states had constitutional bans on gay marriage (largely thanks to George W. Bush's re-election strategy that year). It's amazing how much changed in just a decade (check out the GIF below).